Is DUI a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) endangers lives. In fact, it remains the leading cause of road accidents today. In a data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving reportedly claimed almost 11,000 lives in 2017 alone.

Penalties and consequences await those who are found driving while intoxicated, even if there were no accidents or casualties involved. Drivers who get pulled over by the police or traffic officers for suspected DUI are engaged in a sobriety test and checked for blood alcohol content. Should they fail the test, they have to face the consequences of DUI conviction.

While most DUI charges are classified as a misdemeanor, several DUI offenses may be considered a felony. In any case, the defendant will need the advice and services of a DUI attorney.

What is Misdemeanor DUI?
Misdemeanors and felonies are types of criminal offenses. A DUI case may fall under any of the two, depending on the nature of the arrest.

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies, which means their consequences are not as severe. In the context of a DUI arrest, the first offense is almost always considered a misdemeanor, so long as there are no aggravating circumstances involved.

Though the penalties for misdemeanors are less harsh, it may still result in jail time (a maximum of one year) and a punitive fine.

When is DUI a Felony?
A misdemeanor DUI already carries severe penalties, but certain conditions or incidents around the arrest may call for a heavier sentence than what is normally imposed. As mentioned, the presence of aggravating factors may push the state to elevate the charge to a felony.

As DUI laws may differ from state to state, the factors and potential punishments to aggravated DUI charges may vary.

Circumstances that may lead to a felony DUI are as follows:

1. Injury
If the DUI incident leads to serious injury or death of another person, the offender is likely to face a felony charge.

2. Elevated Blood Alcohol Level
All states have a BAC limit of 0.08%. Thus, anybody with a BAC that exceeds the legal limit should not be driving. Otherwise, the person has committed DUI.

A suspected DUI driver will not be charged with a felony if the BAC is just a little over the limit. Felony charges usually apply when the intoxicated driver has a BAC of two or three times the legal limit – or over 0.16%. In which case, the crime carries with it more severe punishments and higher penalties.

3. Minor Passengers
Many states increase DUI offenses to a felony if there are children on the vehicle. But the “minor” part may refer to different age ranges per state. Some states charge a felony only if children aged 12 and under are in the vehicle. In other states, 16 year-olds are still considered minors.

4. Driving with Invalid License
People caught driving under the influence, with a revoked or suspended license at that, maybe charged with a felony. DUI is bad enough. The blatant disregard of the law makes it worse.

5. Previous DUI Convictions
Most courts hand down felony charges to repeat DUI offenders, even if the driver’s prior convictions were out-of-state. It’s one way to show the people that DUI is not and will not be tolerated.

The penalties associated with a felony DUI offense may include thousands of dollars in fines and more than one year in prison, among others. Repeat offenders may have their driver’s license revoked and/or their vehicles subject to mandatory ignition interlock devices.

What to Do In Case of A DUI Arrest?
Felony drunk driving is a serious crime, and its effects on a person’s life can be huge and far-reaching. With so much at stake, anybody facing DUI charges needs an experienced DUI attorney on their side.

If you have been accused of DUI, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony, contact a DUI attorney immediately.

With a knowledgeable DUI lawyer to help you build a strong case, your felony charge may be reduced to a misdemeanor. Even better, you could win the case and leave without a criminal record.

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